Adult Protective Services: What You Need to Know

In the United States, Adult Protective Services (APS) provide protective social services to older adults (typically those aged 60 and older). They also help vulnerable adults and those with serious disabilities. Sometimes APS is referred to as simply "adult services."

APS agencies are the adult equivalent of Child Protective Services and play a critical role in combating elder abuse or the abuse of other vulnerable adults. Such abuse can include:

  • Neglect from health care providers or staff
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Abandonment
  • Financial exploitation

APS can also be called in for self-neglect, mental health concerns, or self-harm. They investigate claims of suspected abuse and complaints against a facility.

History and Development of Adult Protective Services

According to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), APS agencies have developed from the ground up over the past several decades. They first emerged at the state and local levels and only recently received greater support from the federal government.

The development of most APS agencies occurred before the benefit of federal coordination. It was also before the benefit of comprehensive research in the field of elder or vulnerable adult abuse. Research into this people group is a more recent phenomenon.

APS Services Today

Adult Protective Services agencies exist in every state and are normally administered at the local or county level.

Most states place their APS agencies within their Department of Social Services. Some APS agencies are placed within a state department on aging or health for other states. A few states, such as Ohio, limit Adult Protective Services only to older adults. However, most states provide APS to vulnerable adults, dependent adults, and the elderly.

What Services Do APS Agencies Provide?

Upon receiving a report of abuse involving an older or vulnerable adult, APS agencies typically provide the following services:

  • Investigations
  • Evaluations of client risk and mental capacity
  • Development and implementation of a case plan tailored to the victim
  • Counseling for the client
  • Assistance in connecting the client with additional services and benefits
  • Ongoing monitoring of the delivery of services

APS agencies also work closely with law enforcement. Criminal abuse against elderly or vulnerable adults is often uncovered while conducting investigations.

NAPSA Strategic Goals For APS

NAPSA works to strengthen APS at a national level. Their mission includes:

  • Operating an effective and inclusive organization
  • Advocacy and public policy
  • Public education
  • Research
  • Training
  • A national resource center

You can read their full program standards, code of ethics and goals on their website. 

Practice Guidelines and Principles Guiding APS Agencies

According to NAPSA, below are the main principles that guide APS agencies in the delivery of services to older or vulnerable adults:

  1. Do no harm
  2. The client is the first concern
  3. Don't impose their personal values on clients
  4. Recognize differences and be inclusive
  5. The least restrictive alternative should be used
  6. The family unit should be maintained wherever possible (if in the best interest of the client)
  7. The use of community-based services is preferred over institutions
  8. Blaming the victim should be avoided
  9. Use clear and professional boundaries
  10. Casework actions must be in the client's best interests if there are no expressed wishes
  11. Failure to provide adequate or appropriate services is worse than providing no services

Older adult clients always have these rights from APS workers:

  1. Right to self-determination
  2. Right to informed consent
  3. Personal information is confidential
  4. Receive information in a way the client can understand
  5. Involvement in developing the service plan (when possible)
  6. Maximize independence

Additionally, NAPSA provides guidelines for voluntary service planning and involuntary service planning. "Involuntary service planning" occurs during emergencies, extreme risks, or the client can't consent to services. NAPSA and APS believe that taking involuntary action should not be taken lightly.

Filing a Report with Adult Protective Services

If you file a report with Adult Protective Services, a trained professional will first screen the report's details. They will determine whether APS has jurisdiction to move forward.

If so, you can expect an APS caseworker to be assigned to investigate the case. They will contact and establish a relationship with the potential victim. In some states, a caseworker is legally required to:

  • Contact the potential victim
  • Meet with the potential victim in person
  • Establish first contact within a certain number of days

California, for example, requires a caseworker to make in-person contact immediately in cases of imminent danger. For all other cases, they make contact within 10 days.

Adult Protective Services Investigations

During the investigation, the caseworker will investigate the facts. Where appropriate, they will report any criminal activity to law enforcement.

However, unlike a traditional law enforcement investigation, APS caseworkers are trained to develop a relationship of trust with the potential victim. The caseworker will create and explain a case plan tailored to the potential victim's needs.

Anonymous APS Reports

While laws vary from state to state, some states allow for APS reports to be submitted anonymously. Some states also protect the person making the report from civil and criminal liability as long as the report was made in good faith. Such laws also protect those initiating reports from any professional disciplinary action.

This is to encourage doctors or other medical professionals to report suspicions of abuse. They can make reports without fear of breaching any professional obligations of confidentiality or any privacy laws relating to medical records.

Contact your local Adult Protective Services office to initiate a report of older adult abuse or abuse of a vulnerable adult. NAPSA provides an APS locator on its webpage to assist in locating an office near you.

Additional Resources

  • For additional information on reporting older adult abuse, see FindLaw's Reporting Elder Abuse or the resources provided by the National Center on Elder Abuse
  • To find an attorney in your area that specializes in elder law and older adult abuse, see FindLaw's attorney directory
  • For additional general information on older or vulnerable adult abuse, see FindLaw's Elder Abuse Overview

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Complex abuse situations usually require a lawyer
  • A lawyer will take these matters seriously and enforce protections
  • Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions
  • Many attorneys offer free consultations

 If you need an attorney, find one right now.